02/16/2009 12:00AM

What path should Stardom Bound take?


NEW YORK - Even at this early stage, one of the more intriguing storylines on the road to the Kentucky Derby involves Stardom Bound. Should last year's champion 2-year-old filly, winner of four straight Grade 1 races, continue to be asked to dominate members of her own gender? Or should her connections point toward a meeting against males in the Derby?

There are a lot of factors to be considered, not the least of which are the quality of this year's 3-year-old male crop, the constitution of the filly in question, and how much risk the connections are willing to accept.

In regard to the first two, the male crop so far does not look especially imposing, and Stardom Bound looks like she could absorb just about anything you could throw at her.

As for her connections, IEAH Stable and partners, judging from the way they handled Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown and the top-notch turf miler Kip Deville, it certainly seems like they are not averse to taking a shot. I'm sure it's not lost on them that should they point Stardom Bound to the Derby, and should she win it, they would be able to say in a couple of years that they have a foal who is the offspring of two consecutive Kentucky Derby winners - very cool. Then again, IEAH and partners did have to go to $5.7 million to purchase Stardom Bound at auction last November, so one could understand if they played less loosey goosey with her.

In any event, it makes sense to look at how fillies have done in recent Kentucky Derbies and how Stardom Bound stacks up against them. The logical definition of recent should be Genuine Risk, who in 1980 became only the second filly to win the Derby (Regret was the first in 1915). When Genuine Risk ran in the Derby, she was the first filly in 21 years to do so.

Between Genuine Risk and Eight Belles, who finished second to Big Brown in last year's race before suffering a fatal breakdown while pulling up, seven fillies ran in the Derby. They were Cupecoy's Joy, who set the pace into the stretch of the 1982 Derby as part of the parimutuel field before fading to 10th behind Gato Del Sol; the entry of Life's Magic and Althea in 1984, a coupling that was sent off the favorite at 5-2, but who finished eighth and 19th, respectively, behind Swale; Winning Colors, who in 1988 became the third and last filly to win, doing so as the co-favorite; Serena's Song, who in 1995 was part of the favored entry with Timber Country and who tired after setting the early pace to finish 16th behind uncoupled barnmate Thunder Gulch; and in 1999, Excellent Meeting, who finished a gaining fifth as part of the favored entry with General Meeting, and Three Ring, who finished last of 19.

With the possible exception of one or two of those seven horses, Stardom Bound is considerably more accomplished at this point in her career, and that includes the two filly Derby winners. Stardom Bound's four straight Grade 1 scores came in the Del Mar Debutante, the Oak Leaf, the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, and the Las Virgenes. Even though she was still undefeated at the corresponding stage of her career, Genuine Risk had only two stakes wins - the Grade 2 Demoiselle and Grade 3 Tempted. Winning Colors had won only a restricted stakes.

Cupecoy's Joy had three stakes wins, but all were in New York-bred races, while Life's Magic had only one stakes win, in the Oak Leaf, from six attempts. Althea had won five stakes, including two romps over males, but she had not won a Grade 1. Three Ring had won only two restricted stakes, and Eight Belles had only won a listed stakes.

Serena's Song and Excellent Meeting are the only two who had accomplished as much or more than Stardom Bound to this point, and even then, it's debatable. Serena's Song won five stakes (three of them Grade 1's), but she had also lost in five stakes. Excellent Meeting, whose career to this stage seems the closest to Stardom Bound's, had won four stakes and ran a winning race when narrowly beaten by barnmate Silverbulletday in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.

In looking at all the past performances, one interesting point popped up. The trainers of the last three filly starters in the Derby - Larry Jones (Eight Belles), Bob Baffert (Excellent Meeting), and Eddie Plesa Jr. (Three Ring) - did not seek out a prior prep against males. The six recent filly Derby starters before them had all previously raced against males. Serena's Song was unlucky not to have beaten males in the Hollywood Juvenile Championship at 2, but won the Jim Beam (now the Lane's End) in her final Derby prep. Winning Colors won the Santa Anita Derby in her final prep, while Althea had previously made four starts against males and won three of them, including the Arkansas Derby in her final prep. Life's Magic had three prior starts against males, while Cupecoy's Joy had six such starts. And Genuine Risk had her final Derby prep in the Wood Memorial, in which she finished third in the first defeat of her career.

For the record, four of the fillies who met males before the Derby (Althea, Life's Magic, Winning Colors, and Serena's Song) were all trained by D. Wayne Lukas (Alfredo Callejas trained Cupecoy's Joy, and Leroy Jolley trained Genuine Risk). But the important thing to remember is that the two fillies in recent times who actually won the Derby did so off final preps against males.

So, if Stardom Bound was mine, and I decided it made sense to go for the Kentucky Derby because the 3-year-old males continued to underwhelm me, I would have no problem running her next month in a race against fillies such as the Santa Anita Oaks. But her start in early April would have to be against the boys.